Obama, House leaders say they're in sync on NSA reforms

Months after President Obama called on the intelligence community and the Justice Department to come up with ideas for reforming the nation's sweeping surveillance programs, the president is poised to announce the package of reforms that he is choosing to endorse.

During a press conference in the Netherlands Tuesday, Mr. Obama said he's chosen an option that he thinks is "workable" and that "addresses the two core concerns that people have."

Firstly, he said, the government would no longer keep bulk data in its possession.

"Some of the dangers that people hypothesize when it came to bulk data, there were clear safeguards against. But I recognize that people were concerned about what might happen in the future with that bulk data," he said. "This proposal that's been presented to me would eliminate that concern."

Additionally, Mr. Obama said the proposal calls for judicial oversight into each individual query into the database of metadata.

"Overall, I am confident that it allows us to do what is necessary in order to deal with the dangers from the terrorist attack, but does so in a way that addresses some of the concerns that people had raised," he said. "And I'm looking forward to working with Congress to make sure that we go ahead and pass the enabling legislation quickly, so that we can get on with the business of effective law enforcement."

Back in Washington, some lawmakers said they were encouraged by what they've heard about the president's proposal.

"They're coming in our direction," Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said of the White House Tuesday. Rogers remarks came after he and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, described a bill called the End Bulk Collection Act, which would follow the same basic principles for reforming surveillance that the president put forward.

"We think we have found the way to end the government's bulk collection of telephone metadata and still provide a mechanism to protect the United States and track those terrorists calling in," Rogers said.

The legislation, he said, would ban the government's bulk collection of electronic communication metadata, which is currently justified under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Instead, the government would have to obtain that data from the communications companies (that are already legally obligated to retain the data for 18 months) after getting approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court.

Any information collected would then be subject to additional court review and would have to be purged if it failed to meet the FISA Court standards of pertaining to a "reasonable, articulable suspicion."

Rogers and Ruppersberger said they have been working with the White House and other congressman on the legislation and expressed optimism about it, though they would not put forward a timeline for its passage.

However, not all lawmakers are on board with their plan.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., -- one of the original authors of the Patriot Act and a sponsor of a reform bill called the USA Freedom Act -- said in a statement that "the End Bulk Collection Act is a convoluted bill that accepts the administration's deliberate misinterpretation of the law."

"Provisions included in the draft fall well short of the safeguards in the USA FREEDOM Act and do not strike the proper balance between privacy and security," he said. "The End Bulk Collection Act will not have my support."

Sensenbrenner's bill, among other things, would require government requests to be relevant and material to an authorized investigation into international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.

Ruppersberger said Tuesday that the Sensenbrenner bill (also sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.) is "a good start, but... makes our country less safe."

To illustrate his point, Ruppersberger said the Sensenbrenner bill would, for example, impede the collection of information about phone calls made by a known terrorist in Yemen.

"Under the Sensenbrenner bill, in order for us to be able to have the ability to see who that person is calling and go to the phone companies and get that information, under the Sensenbrenner bill, you have to have an ongoing investigation," he said. "Well, that's not an ongoing investigation. So right there, we would not be able to have the ability to see known terrorists calling the United States."

On Fox News, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said, "the devil is in the details here."

"I don't like the idea of collecting the data. If it's left in the phone company's hands and you have to have a warrant with an individual's name on it, then that I think meets the law, the Constitution. But we'll have to see what happens," he said.

Still, Rogers said Tuesday, "We're feeling pretty good about people starting to coalesce around a solution. No longer can we be all for it or all against it."

Other lawmakers who have put forward reform proposals also expressed optimism about getting something done.

"I will review the details of the president's proposal, but I am encouraged by reports that he has embraced my approach to ending the dragnet collection of Americans' private phone records," Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a member of the House Intelligence Committee, similarly said, "The decision by the White House that they will transition away from bulk collection of phone records and go to a model where prior court approval is required before seeking metadata from telephone companies is a very important step forward for reform."